2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Die Belg bezoek het vaderland. – This Belgian visits his land of birth.

I’ve struggled with writing this piece. My problem has been trying to put a positive spin on this story. This of course wouldn’t be truthful story then, would it? The truth is I don’t need to add spin to it because it’s my experience. This wasn’t helped much by various blogs and posts advertising how wonderful my land of birth is once I arrived back in Belgium. It only went to perpetuating the feeling that I was somehow wicked and wrong to feel that resentment. It takes a massive amount of motivation to make someone change their circumstances as my little family has. I turned down two offers of an increase and an offer of my dream position in the company before they accepted the reality that I was leaving. We sold our dream house. It took us approximately two years to find our home and we sold it because we were motivated enough (in a completely negative sense) to disassemble our lives, sell everything we could, give the rest away and flee. So there we go. I was forced, through circumstance, to return briefly to my land of birth. The circumstance being the happy union of my little brother and the girl he loves. Horrors – I had to leave Belgium and I wasn’t particularly happy about it. I wasn’t looking forward to this brief excursion for two reasons.

  1. My wife (due to some crazy Belgian red-tape) is not allowed to leave Belgian territory whilst applying for her residency.
  2.  I simply wasn’t looking forward to returning to a land I fled.

What I was looking forward to was seeing my friends and family! The flight was terrible because I was that passenger that you don’t want to sit next to. I was ill. Running nose, coughing, lightheaded and turning into a zombie sick. There was no other choice but to go though because I was flying in the cheap seats and couldn’t change or cancel the ticket without missing the wedding and losing all that money I’d paid! I deeply apologize for the zombie apocalypse I began as I’m quite sure everyone in that fast moving can-in-the-air caught what I had. In a way it was comforting to see that nothing had changed but that was also rather worrying. In Belgium I’ve seen my tax money at work. There are always refurbishments of services and alterations happening and plans underway.  I believe this is good.   My little brother and his (now) wife’s wedding was beautiful and exactly how I thought it’d be – tasteful and classy. I believe it matched their taste and wants perfectly and I feel honored that I was invited to attend their special day! The weather was much warmer than Belgium and visiting some of my friends and seeing my mom, dad and brothers was lovely. Beyond that, I have nothing further to say!

The Conclusion: It was good to visit because in no time at all (truth be told the moment I approached passport control) I realized that I had developed a greater allegiance and love for Belgium in the one year of my absence than I ever had for my country of birth. I have a king who was raised and bred for the express purpose. He has three masters’ degrees – no not honorary masters – he worked and studied for these and has military rank not because he’s entitled to it but because he earned it. If Belgium was attacked, it’s him I’d be aligned with. I cannot say the same for the leaders of the land of my birth. Belgium is home. Ciao for now.

 

This Belgian visits his land of birth. – Die Belg bezoek het vaderland.

Ik vond het moeilijk om dit stuk te schrijven. Mijn probleem was om een positief verhaal te schrijven. Dat zou dan een oneerlijk bericht zijn, niet waar? De waarheid is dat ik geen positief verhaal kan schrijven omdat dit mijn ervaring is. Deze toestand wordt niet geholpen door berichten en verhalen over hoe schitterend mijn vaderland is toen ik in belgie terug kwam. Ik heb het gevoel dat ik een slecht en verkeerd persoon ben omdat ik veel wrok voel. Dit vat enorm motivatie om mensen hun stand van zaken te laten veranderen zoals mijn familie heeft gedaan. Ik heb twee loonsverhoging en mij droom vacature geweigerd zodat de maatschappij aanvaardde dat ik emigreerde. Wij hebben ons droomhuis verkocht. Dit heeft ons twee jaar geduurd om onze huis te vinden en wij hebben het verkocht omdat wij gemotiveerd (in een slechte zin) genoeg zijn om onze leven te veranderen, alles te verkopen wat wij kunnen en de rest weggeven om te vluchten. Zo daar sta ik dan. Ik werd gedwongen door omstandigheden om voor een bezoekje terug naar mij vaderland te reizen. De omstandigheden was de trouw van mijn broer en zijn vriendin. Een verschrikking – ik moest België verlaten en ik was er niet blij om. Er zijn twee reden waarom ik geen zin had in de reis.

  1. Mijn vrouw (als gevolg van gekke Belgische wetgeving) mag niet Belgie verlaten (terwijl zij voor haar verblijf aanvraagd.)
  2. Ik heb geen zin om terug naar een land te gaan dat ik gevlucht had.

Wat ik wel naar uit keek, was om mijn vrienden en familie te zien! De vlucht was afschuwelijk omdat ik die passagier was die je niet naast jou wil. Ik was ziek. Lopende neus, hoesten, duizelig en ik word zoals een zombie. Er was geen andere keuze dan de vlucht te nemen omdat ik een goedkoop biljet had. Ik kon dit niet veranderen of annuleren om het trouwfeest te mislopen of mijn geld te verliezen! Het spijt mij dat ik de zombie Apocalyps begon want ik ben zeker dat allemaal in dat vliegtuig mijn ziekte overnam. Het was troostend dat niets in mijn vaderland veranderd was maar dit was ook tamelijk zorgwekkend. In België heb ik mijn taks geld zien werken. Er zijn altijd verbouwingen van diensten en plannen onderweg. Ik denk dat dit goed is. Het huwelijk van mijn jongste broer en zijn vrouw was fraai en precies hoe ik dit zou verwachtte – elegant en eersteklas. Volgens mij was hun huwelijk volgens zijn wensen en ik voel me gelukkig dat ik zijn speciale dag mocht bijwonen. Het weer was veel warmer als België en dit was erg leuk om mijn ouders, broers en vrienden te bezoeken. Verder heb ik niets te zeggen!

De Conclusie: Dit was goed dat ik mijn vaderland bezocht omdat ik dadelijk (het moment toen ik paspoortcontrole aankwam) besefte dat ik een grotere affiniteit en liefde voor België gedurende een jaar ontwikkelde dan ik ooit voor mijn vaderland had. Ik heb een koning wie voor die roeping werkt. Hij heeft voor zijn opvoeding en zijn militaire rang gewerkt en niet eenvoudig gekregen. Ik zou hem volg als België ooit aangevallen zou worden. Ik kan niet hetzelfde zeggen over de leiders van mijn vaderland. België is mijn thuis.

Groetjes.

Belgen Jubileum en ervaringen– Belgian Anniversary and it’s lessons.

This blog should have been done on the 24th of August but honestly I didn’t know what to place on virtual paper. I was completely unsure of what it was I wanted to say about my first year in Belgium. Sure it’s an important milestone but I also felt kind of casual about it. Do I draw attention to the anniversary? Do I simply continue strolling down the road and casually ignore the elephant following me?

No. Turn around and say “hi” to the elephant.

Pink Elephant

 

Moving to Belgium has been rewarding in some ways and horrible in others.

My daughter is happy. I can tell because unhappy toddlers don’t spontaneously combust into song and giggle in their sleep. I don’t worry about my family making it home safely anymore and hope they’re all okay. I have far more faith that they are.

The things I’ve learnt during a year in Belgium:

  • Wandelen (walking) is a fine and honorable mode of public transport however trams, busses and bicycles are better. Trains are awesome for any distance over 10km.
  • Belgium has the biggest, smartest and fastest mosquitoes I’ve ever come across.
  • Following the red tape road to be a good Belgian is like climbing a Christmas tree. Spikey, uncomfortable and near impossible but there are some really lovely baubles along the way.
  • The language is difficult, intricate and quite unique. Due to lack of use, I lost my ability to speak it. Regaining that ability is proving far more difficult than I ever imagined and of utmost importance. My lovely, adorable, beautiful wife is having a far harder time of it as she’s never been exposed to it. Bless her, she’s trying so hard and improving far beyond what I think she realizes.
  • There is no smell on earth that is so comforting as when stepping off the train on a cold, grey and rainy day and the mixed aroma of hot waffles, coffee and fritten (French fries) fills your nostrils and warms the soul.
  • Every underground I’ve been on has it’s own special smell. Antwerp’s underground smells of rich, damp, peaty soil with a hint of celery and leeks.
  • Your time is not your own when you arrive in Belgium to stay. Even if you’re a citizen, if you’ve been out of the country for more than five years you’re required by law to take an Inburgerging (integration) course for social orientation and in my case language lessons too. Count on about six months where your weekends aren’t yours for the Inburgerings course. My evenings are still not mine as the language lessons are on-going and where they’ll stop nobody knows.
  • How to tactfully avoid expounding my true feelings and opinions about my land of birth. This prevents any unwanted “country bashing” sessions. I hate talking about my land of birth (that’s why I call it thus and not by name here) because the old adage of “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything” applies here. Even now I’m full of resentment and holding my tongue.
  • I don’t think we can be considered wealthy – in fact I think we’re probably considered to be poor – but I feel far wealthier and luckier here than I ever have.

The Conclusions Are?

After a year and even after the few “bad” or “tough” points above, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Yes it’s tough here but not the same kind of tough that we fled. It’s more a tough love thing. This kind of tough gives back, the kind of tough we left gets you dead.

I’m looking forward to Christmas and all the pretty (and pretty cold) that goes with it this year. I can enjoy all of this with my little family here in Belgium.

So here we go for another year!

Ciao for now.

Belgen mensen zijn serious – Belgian people are serious.

Well, yes this is mostly true. If you upset a serious Belgian you’ll get the bottom lip, much like this:

Belgian Bottom Lip

Upset Belgians also make the most delicate of “popping” sounds, like a tender “pffff” to signal indifference or that they’re not in approval of something.

I have the feeling Belgians are very serious in public, but in the privacy of their homes they love a good laugh. Thinking about it a little more, I’m pretty sure that’s how it is! When we visit my second-cousin-once-removed (sounds intriguing doesn’t it?) the dinner table is always, always jovial, noisy, raucous with laughter and fun-poking which is anything but serious!

There are indeed times to be serious and Belgians are good at that too. Business is done in an impeccable manner here and it takes some getting used to if you’re used to doing business how my country of origin is used to doing business.

The Application:

There is a season and a time for everything and the trick is to carefully determine when it’s acceptable to be casual and funny and when to be flat-line dead serious, when to throw a cream pie and when to throw a grenade.

I’m still learning those lessons.

Ciao for now.

Belgen mensen zijn stipt.

Belgen mensen zijn stipt  – Belgian people are punctual.

Simply two minutes late for an appointment can land you all the way at the beginning of a sequence of appointments. It’s the equivalent of drawing the “back to the beginning” card in a board game. Starting at the beginning most likely involves making an appointment to make an appointment to begin the red tape process all over again.

When in Belgium, don’t be late.

Don’t do it.

Just don’t.

Don’t be early either. Where I come from, being 15 minutes early shows enthusiasm. Here it illustrates silliness or stupidity. You could have spent that time having coffee and something with vla in and not sitting waiting and doing nothing. Of course you could say it’d take too long because Belgians zijn Bourgondiërs but in this instance you’d make use of one of the many serve-yourself take-away coffee places and sit and waste your time there rather.

I marveled at my parents and Méme & Pépe telling me that people must make appointments to visit even if they’re family. As a young man I’d always simply arrive when I felt it was suitable at friends or family. Again, I can see why it’s a Belgian thing to make an appointment to visit. It’s not that my parents or Méme & Pépe were being difficult. Its something they were used to. Something that’s still done here in Belgium because if I were to travel 20 minutes on a train at 7euro and then 35 minutes on a bus only to find the family I was paying a surprise visit to was out – destination unknown, unavailable via cellular phone and no determined date or time of return – I’d be rather “sad” I think is the polite term.

Must not be late!!!

Must not be late!!!

Yes, my parents, Méme & Pépe and all my Belgian family require proper preparation for guests. They found it silly and a little rude if you simply arrived at their doorstep. They obviously also found it rude if you were late or early (not stipt!). Thankfully Méme & Pépe never met my lovely lady’s aunt who makes it her absolute duty to arrive an hour before required and always does so loudly! She would never have copped another invitation, simple as that. It would have been funny to watch though.

The Application:

Simple. Don’t be late…and I hate being late. I’m the weird stalker-type when I have to be at a certain place at a certain time. I always arrive half-an-hour to 15 minutes early, hover and stare from outside to make sure I have absolutely the correct place and then make sure I get in 10 minutes before the required time. Rather fruit cake without the fruit and all the nuts I know, but it’s the only way I’m at ease with arranged meetings.

So, when in Belgium or dealing with Belgians, the first order of business is BE ON TIME!

Tot gauw!

Belgen mensen zijn niet chauvinistisch.

Belgen mensen zijn niet chauvinistisch  – when I first heard this phrase I thought it meant that Belgians aren’t chauvinists. I was confused, making the immediate association with male chauvinists. As obvious as this phrase sounds when converted straight into English, there’s a certain context here. It has nothing what-so-ever to do with women, bras, holding doors open for the ladies or employment ethics.

Correctly translated, the phrase means “Belgians are not patriotic”. Perhaps I still have a tainted foreigner’s view, but I find this phrase false or at least incomplete and misleading. I think the phrase should be elaborated on such: “Belgians are not patriotic like Americans.”

I think Belgians are deeply and privately patriotic but in a different, unique way.

Have you seen how the government’s made up? The general view of Belgians as far as I’ve been able to establish is that it’s a contrived or invented country with a royal family that had nothing or nowhere else to rule. This is mostly true, but it doesn’t make it any less legitimate as a country! As the lovely Mrs. Black so eloquently pointed out, it’s the chummy of Europe.

More explanation required? Yes, I think so. A chummy is a colloquialism for a friend where we’re originally from. A chummy is also the colloquial name for the useless (but very important) piece of meat that keeps your bum and fun parts apart. Without the chummy, your fun parts wouldn’t be that fun now would they? So yes, a chummy is completely useless and incredibly important!

Yes. Belgium is the chummy, the no-man’s-land of all those feuding, boiling lands in Europe. It divides and puts safe distance between Germany, France, The Netherlands and even though there’s a body of water to divide us from England, Belgium still seems to be a buffer of sorts to this land too.

A patriotic Belgian it seems!

A patriotic Belgian it seems!

So after this brief and cynical history lesson, let’s get to the Belgians. Most of them don’t know their national anthem. There’s the case of our Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, breaking into a lovely rendition of the French national anthem when asked to sing the Belgian one.

Most Belgians I’ve come across do not see any function for the Belgian Royal Family or the King. There is one Belgian who I believe did have an explanation – my Inburgering’s lerares.

She taught me that the king is the glue that keeps the political leaders of all the political parties and groups talking to each other. He is the mediator and the man who keeps the disagreeing political parties wheeling, dealing and compromising. He is also the man who signs all the (finally) agreed upon laws into power.

There are those Belgians that are chauvinistic about the royal family. Here’s proof.

A little royals shrine in a window.

A little royals shrine in a window.

As much as Belgian’s aren’t patriotic about Belgium, ask them about the piece of Belgium they’re living in and it’s a WHOLE different story! The Flanders (the Flemish that live in the north of Belgium and speak Flemish or Belgian Nederlands) consider themselves far superior to the Wallonian Belgians living in the South of Belgium and who speak French. Actually most Flanders don’t even consider Wallonia residences to be Belgian!

The Application:

I don’t know the French National Anthem and I’m not about to break into a rendition of the Belgian National Anthem because like our Prime Minister, I don’t know it!

I find it difficult to dislike my King and royal family or even be indifferent to them. I will therefore keep my tongue and try to keep my opinions to myself thereby portraying an air of indifference.

Inside I’ll love and cuddle them.

I will be (and am by blood as my mother was born and raised in Ardooie) , my emblem will be the lion of Vlanders and not the rooster of Wallonia.

Vlanderen Lion

Tot gauw.

Fietsen en Velo’s – Bicycles.

They’re everywhere! To be Belgian is to own a bicycle. Even if it’s not used too often, a bicycle is a must have to place in the basement, garage or the mud room.

Bicycles are used by many, many Belgians for a variety of reasons such as to get to work, to get to your public transport to get to work, to do work, for leisure, sport, to fetch the groceries, to take the kids, well you get the picture. Of course there are all kinds of bicycle styles, shapes and sizes as well as accessories to aid with all of these functions. One aid or accessory I have not yet found is bum cream for those first days in the saddle. No matter how soft and luxurious your little seat, you’re going to walk like a cowboy for the first few days if you haven’t regularly ridden a bicycle. I’m not ashamed to say it – my ass hurts!

What I don’t understand is that even though bicycles are so necessary in Belgium, they don’t seem to really make it into popular art. They really aren’t romanticized or immortalized in music. The only Nederland’s song I was able to find about their much loved bicycle is this Ik Wil Fietsen.
I can however think of plenty of songs in English and written by people who I don’t believe would use a bicycle on such regular and everyday ways as a Belgian would. There’s Queen’s Bicycle Race, Pink Floyd’s Bike and Katie Melua‘s Nine Million Bicycles.
Most train stations are also the conversion point for bus stops and tram stops. Antwerp Central Station holds a secret (well to foreigners) under Astrid Plein. That secret is an underground parking garage…for bicycles.

Bicycle parking UNDER Astrid Plein at Central Station.

Bicycle parking UNDER Astrid Plein at Central Station.

Larney bicycle parking under Astrid Plein.

Larney bicycle parking under Astrid Plein.

Bicycle rental place I think.

Bicycle rental place I think, under Astrid Plein.

You’ll notice the gutters on the stairs to the underground bicycle lair, or at least I thought they were gutters for rain water. They are in fact wheel guides for when you wheel your bicycle in or out of the underground bicycle parking.

Stairs with bicycle gutters.

Stairs with bicycle gutters.

At Berchem station it’s all out in the open. There’s no covered bicycle parking yet. They’re working on that currently and it’s going to be an amazing multilevel bicycle parking facility – Belgian taxes hard at work!

Outdoor parking at Berchem station.

Outdoor parking at Berchem station.

There are all kinds of bicycles for all kinds of uses. There are the functional bicycles, the workhorses and sedans of the bicycle world with the handy accessories to carry goods and little family members.

Mom's bicycle with grocery basket and child carrier.

Mom’s bicycle with grocery basket and child carrier.

There are even bicycle trailers to carry your most precious cargos and other more mundane cargo. These trailers convert into prams for while you’re doing your shopping or need to be more pedestrian.

The covered trailer for the executive child or groceries.

The covered trailer for the executive child or groceries.

Entire families can be carried on one bicycle if required especially useful for those who haven’t found the correct use of a ‘kapot’.

Is it? Could it be? A whole family and groceries on a bike?

Is it? Could it be? A whole family and groceries on a bike?

There are of course the custom jobs as with any mode of transport.

His custom zebra print job...

His custom zebra print job…

Hers...

Hers…

Offsprings.

Offsprings.

If the bicycle is the equivalent of a car, then those making them go must be the motors. There are the old clapped-out motors, the foreign motors and those really good looking motors too.

2013-05-28 15.15.06

The burnt-out motor.

The hot little engine.

The hot little engine.

The standard rental Atos.

The standard rental Atos.

2013-05-28 15.11.00

The standard VW.

Then there’s the pull up and chaff manoeuvre!

The pick-up line.

The pick-up line.

I finally have my own and my little girl loves it! It’s a must-have here in Belgium and if you’re going to spend a length of time here, a necessity I think. It’s far faster than walking and you’re not inhibited by bus, tram or train routes. The terrain here in Antwerpen is really flat too and makes for easy going.

Ciao for now.